The term gender role refers to societies concept of how men and women are expected to act and behave. We are taught gender roles from infancy, for example girls wear pink and play with dolls. Boys wear blue and are tough. For this socialization experiment, I have picked two different children’s toys; one clearly aimed towards girls and the other aimed towards boys. For the toy aimed towards girls, I have chosen the Barbie STEM kit. For the toy aimed towards boys I have chosen the DC Justice League action figure set.
The purpose of this experiment is to analyze and discuss the possible implications these toys can have on a child’s perception on their role in society. With the findings of this experiment we can hope to answer the question do children’s toys have a positive or negative influence on a child’s perceived gender roles? Method For this study, I have chosen to do a self-study. The demographics that I fall into are white, female, between the age of 20-24. This experiment took place in toys aisles at Target.
While walking though the toy aisles, none of them were specifically labeled for boys or girls, but there were clear indicators of who each aisle was aimed towards. The first three aisles were clearly aimed towards girls, they included baby dolls, princesses, and Barbie’s, etc. These aisles were mostly pink, included dress up dresses and mostly photos of females using the toys on the boxes. The aisles aimed towards boys included super heroes/action figures, hot wheels and trucks, Nerf Guns, and tool sets. Most of the packaging down the aisles are blue, and show photos of boys playing with these toys on the boxes.
I walked through the aisles looking though toys and paid close attention to what aisles seemed to be popular among male and female children. While walking though many younger girls seemed to be drawn towards the Barbie’s and many younger boys seemed to be drawn towards the super hero aisle. I then picked a toy out of each aisle to analyze the possible gender implications. I chose each toy based on the ones that seemed to have the most stereotypical gender roles attached to them. The data collected for this experiment will be gathered by personal observations on these toys.
Results and Discussion While looking at these toys the dominate thing that stood out was how these toys were so clearly marketed to one gender. When looking down the Barbie aisle, every large box on display included a girl doll, every photo on the boxes were young girls playing with the toys. There was very little male presence in this aisle, minus a few “Ken” dolls, which were displayed in the top corners of the aisles out of a child’s main view. I looked though the toys, and chose the Barbie STEM kit to analyze. When I first looked at this box, I really thought this was an awesome toy.
STEM is a growing career field, but made up of mostly males. “According to the U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, women make up 47 percent of the total U. S. workforce, but are much less represented in particular science and engineering occupations. They comprise 39 percent of chemists and material scientists, 28 percent of environmental scientists and geoscientists, 16 percent of chemical engineers and just 12 percent of civil engineers”. This Barbie toy seemed to go against gender role norms, and helped young girls see that they too can grow up to be scientists and engineers.
I thought all of this until looking at the back of the packaging and realizing that the projects in this box included building a rotating closet, shoe rack, jewelry holder, and washing machine. Photos of this toy can be seen below: Though this toy does do show that girls can grow up to be scientists, it does have some harmful side effects as well. This toy shows girls that if they are interested in STEM they can use it to build things like washing machines and closets for all their clothes. This toy relates being a scientist back to bring a home maker and only being interested in clothes and jewelry.
When looking at the actual Barbie its self creates some gender stereotypes as well. Every Barbie including the STEM Barbie also hold very unrealistic body expectations for young girls. These dolls imply that to be a successful woman, they need to be tall, slim, sexually dressed, and perfectly put together. Barbie has also faced a lot of controversy over her size and literally impossible body dimensions. When considering the toys aimed towards boys, I decided to pick the toys that were the male equivalent of dolls, and look down the aisle that was home to all the action figures.
Gender roles come from the title of this aisle alone. Boys can’t play with dolls they play with action figures, even though they are really they exact same thing. When looking down the rows of action figures, males clearly outnumbered women. Female characters make up about 30. 9% of the DC super hero characters and even less are featured in the movies or toy aisles in the store. When they are featured as action figures, many are highly sexualized wearing revealing outfits and fully figured. These toys also play into typical male gender roles as well.
These types of action figures show that boys and men and powerful and important. These action figures also create negative body images in males. Many of these action figures are overly muscular, some even have biceps larger than their heads. This plays into the serotype that males need to be strong and tough. In the Justice League action figure set shown, the males completely outnumber the female character, and clearly all show strong, muscular male bodies. Both toys that were analyzed in this experiment may have negative effects on a children’s perceived gender roles in society.
Though societies views on the male and female gender roles are changing. There are still very clear stereotypes about what a male and what a female should be like, and I think that a lot of children’s toys play into this. I found these two toys at Target a store that has claimed to get rid of gender based labeling in their toy aisles. Though no aisles are specifically colored pink or blue, or labeled for boys or girls there are still clear indicators of who these toys are marketed towards based on colors, photos on the boxes etc.
Both toys also play into the ideas that females are weaker, only interested in things like clothes or jewelry and should be beautiful and always put together. The boys action figures also play into the stereotype that boys are the ones who are tough, strong and the heroes. These toys did reinforce my idea that toys can have a negative impact on a child’s gender roles. I think they toys that are aimed towards girls are awful. When walking through other aisles, all the girl toys were princesses, and baby dolls.
Even the toy I was pleasantly surprised to see bringing STEM into the mix, was very disappointing showing that you learn how to build a washing machine. It’s great to see a store like Target get rid of gender labels on the toy aisles, but there was little mixing of toys aimed for boys and girls. All the girl toys were still down certain aisles and boys down another. Conclusion This experiment has shown me a lot about how young gender roles are forced upon children. Girls and boys are not born automatically likening pink and blue, this is something that is taught to them by society, and most toys reinforce this.
I feel like toys aimed towards girls may be the most dangerous (though I probably see some bias there being female). Girls are capable of being so much more than homemakers, mothers and princesses despite what most of the toys advertised towards them say. This experiment has shown me that boys also face a lot of issues with their selections of toys too, and experience a lot of pressure to be tough and play with toys that reinforce this. These roles can also be very damaging towards children, and may hinder them exploring their interests that do not fit into that stereotypical role.
Though I think society is trying to move away from gender based toys, we still have a long way to go, but Target removing their gender labeling on the aisles is a great place to start. As a future educator, I think it is important to remove as much gender serotyping from a classroom as possible. It is important to let boys know they do not need to be tough all the time, and can play with dolls if they want. It’s important to let girls know they don’t have to be weak, if they want to play with truck and action figures they can.